After interviewing dozens of women leaders with organizations ranging in size of fifteen employees to Fortune 500 organizations, I discovered that there is one fundamental truth about storytelling and leadership.
I’ve distilled these findings into the 5A Formula for Fearless Leadership™, and it is my passion to share this formula with all leaders in hopes of building a brighter and braver future – one story at a time.
The stories that we are telling matter now more than ever. Today, I want to share with you the story of the first woman leader I interviewed.
With more than four decades of experience in the banking industry, Linda Humphries’ journey to leadership is an inspiring story for all leaders, and especially for women leaders.
In 2019, Linda Humphries was named a Breakthrough Woman of the Year by the Greater Houston Women’s Chamber of Commerce, which is an organization focused on empowering women to advance in their professional lives. The award is given to women who are recognized as trailblazers in their industries that demonstrate amazing courage and leadership in reaching their career goals.
Execution is really the critical part of a successful strategy. Getting it done, getting it done right, getting it done better than the next person is far more important than dreaming up new visions of the future-Lou Gerstner, Jr.
In Linda’s words, her mission is to serve others and make a difference in the world, no matter the challenges presented. Linda embodies this statement about the value of being a leader who is willing and able to execute what must be done the right way. Being counted on to do the best possible job is a central part of Linda’s identity. Countless interviews and conversations with other women leaders revealed a similar theme that Fearless Leaders are Accountable.
I recently met with a woman CEO of a large chemical company in the mid-Atlantic. We were discussing the motivation to lead, and how women often perceive their abilities (or lack thereof) to lead. This CEO shared that in all her experience, she believes every great leader’s sense of self can be linked back to youth – that the experiences and messages received during youth inform so much of what a person believes to be true about herself. This is certainly the case for Linda.
The most obvious and driving force behind Linda’s career success is that she is a person who takes on risks and challenges, even to the point of respectful defiance. Linda does what others can’t or won’t do, and she truly operates with the assumption that nothing is impossible.
From a very early age Linda understood what it meant to be a woman with a career, and although she was born in 1950 and grew up in working middle class suburbia, she never considered the idea of not pursuing a rewarding professional life. Her parents ran their own insurance business, and later her own mother became an Officer at a Savings & Loan, which was remarkable for a woman in the late 1950’s.
In high school, Linda was elected President of the Girls’ Booster Club, which was a prominent position, and it was in this position that Linda began learning about teamwork, goal setting, and executing a plan. The year Linda served as President, she and her team declared they intended to raise money and travel out of the country to Acapulco. Through this, Linda learned about developing followers and leading others to achieve a shared goal, even though they faced resistance at every step along the way, especially from the adult faculty. Linda shared that this was one of her first memories of actively defying the odds and making the choice as a leader to do what others thought was impossible. To this day, Linda seems to gravitate to taking on major projects that others think impossible. Again, a similar message was conveyed in the stories of so many more women I met with. Fearless Leaders are Audacious.
Linda’s first full-time job in 1969 was in the Trust Department of Texas Commerce Bank, which was a well-respected organization, considered the best of the best at that time. Linda worked hard and received great reviews, and at the time, she thought that her hard work was going to drive her career forward. The idea that being a woman limited her opportunity to become an Officer of the bank had never crossed her mind. At that time, her own mother was an Officer of a Savings & Loan downtown. Even though Linda was shocked and somewhat frustrated with this realization, she didn’t let it sideline her. The year was 1972, and Linda had the self-awareness to know that she would thrive in an environment where she had direct support and coaching. Years later, as a leader at Allegiance Bank, Linda uses her experience as woman leader as motivation to mentor and promote as many women as she can. She is not afraid to share her challenges, and she never hides the truth. Once again, I heard similar stories from many brave women leaders. Fearless Leaders are Accessible.
Linda’s self-awareness and self-confidence in taking on new challenges made her an attractive hire and she was quickly identified as a high potential employee. Like many future leaders that leverage natural relationship skills enabled through self-awareness and emotional intelligence, Linda moved up quickly. She started opening new accounts and interacting with customers with great success. Linda’s recognition as a high potential employee also provided her the opportunity to work closely with the Officers of that bank. Linda shares that their confidence in her abilities provided additional evidence that she was not only motivated to lead, but also more than ready to lead.
Linda shares in a moment of deep reflection,
Those five men and one woman – her name was Margie Booker – were generous in teaching me all about banking. I was offered an opportunity to ‘take on’ and assist a small group of individuals who were interested in opening a small community bank in Jersey Village and I said ‘yes’ not knowing how or what came next, but at that moment I was sure I could do it.
So, in December 1973 Linda found herself in a small rented office with George Martinez who became her trusted, life-long friend and mentor. With a team of just seven people, they opened Jersey Village Bank in August 1974. Over time, through their charismatic and authentic leadership, they grew the organization to over 1,000 employees. Together, Linda the team took that bank public, and Linda had the opportunity to go to New York City and ring in the bell at NASDAQ.
I was a young girl around age 12 at this time, and I spent a lot of time in the bank lobby or the lunch room where I would always be intercepted by an adoring employee of the bank who had two things to tell me, “You look just like your mom!” and “Your mother is the best boss I’ve ever had. “ That message was relayed to me by many people over the years, and I knew even as a tween, this was the result of my mother’s incredible balance of power and humility as a woman leader. She was 100% herself and never tried to be someone she wasn’t. This was a strong theme in the stories of the other successful women leaders I met with. Fearless leaders are Authentic.
Nothing was impossible during those years of exponential growth– the values that defined Linda’s identity at this stage of her development as a leader were resourcefulness, generosity, and determination. She overcame many big and small obstacles along the journey of the next decade as her influence increased and she took on more leadership roles.
The greatest challenge of Linda’s life came in 1994 when her son, aged 14 at the time (my little brother), was in a catastrophic car accident. He was life flighted to Hermann Hospital, brain dead and in a coma for weeks. Although he eventually had a miraculous recovery and learned to walk and talk again and now has a family of his own, the traumatic ordeal had a massive impact on Linda’s life and career. Like many people who have experienced major traumas, this was a transformational moment in her life and her identity was re-defined not only as a mother and woman, but also as a leader. She re-evaluated everything and became an even more compassionate and empathetic leader. Linda’s values and purpose clearer than ever, she became hyper-focused on serving others, pursuing excellence, and creating a lasting culture for her organization and a legacy for us, her children.
I call this trait an attitude of abundance. So many leaders I spoke with had stories of struggle, incredible pain, grief, and even failure. The thing that differentiated the leaders I spoke with who were not only thriving in successful careers, but also living joyful lives, was that they truly believed in the power of hope, and they acted on that hope to find success and joy. Fearless leaders are Abundant.
The one thing I know for sure after all these interviews, is that when leaders feel seen, respected, and valued in the ways Linda does, they will make incredible contributions to their organizations with a willingness to lead with both heart and mind – they will be Fearless Leaders, capable of cultivating courageous corporate cultures for the future!